According to Camie Lai, Malaysian food isn’t terribly hard to come by in New York City, but the most authentic spots are tucked away in Queens or Brooklyn.
Fortunately, her restaurant, Rasa, is located along the infamous slab of 8th Street that flags the West Village.
Because Rasa’s regulars are well educated on what constitutes authentic Malaysian — many have been to or hail from the country itself — Lai and her Michelin-starred brother, head chef Tommy Lai, spare no expense to meet their high standards, importing raw spices straight from their homeland.
“Malaysia is a country of immigrants, so our food is influenced by Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Eurasian cooking styles and recipes,” said Lai. “Some of our dishes are a fusion of some or all of these cultures, and others are distinctly Chinese or Malay.”
One new menu item, pulut panggang, is made with grilled sticky rice with coconut milk, banana leaves, dried shrimp lemongrass, and coriander. It’s typically sold on the streets of Malaysia the way hot dogs are sold here in the city, and are a popular afterschool snack choice for kids. Among the other dishes making their February debut are cucur badak (sweet potato with spicy coconut filling), roti telur (an Indian-influenced flat bread with egg), skate fish with Sambal chili dips, and crispy tilapia.
Expect to taste satay a different way — dare we say, the right way — cooked over a charcoal fire. Most kitchens use a gas fire to speed up grilling time, says Lai, which can affect the flavor.
Last but not least, try the beef rendang (curry beef). The short ribs don’t soak in a curry soup, but are marinated in cinnamon, tamarind pulp, toasted coconut, and dried chili. It’s one of chef Lai’s signature dishes, and one that helped him earn that Michelin star.